A man had been driving all night across the country and by morning was still far from his destination. So he decided to stop at the next city he came to, park somewhere quiet so he could get an hour or two of sleep and some well-deserved rest.
As luck would have it, the quiet place he chose happened to be on one of the city’s major jogging routes. No sooner had he settled back to snooze when there came a knocking on his window. He looked out and saw a jogger running in place. “Yes?” “Excuse me, sir,” the jogger said, “do you have the time?” The man looked at the car clock and answered, “8:15.” The jogger said thanks and left.
The man settled back again. He was just falling back to sleep when there was another knock on the window and another jogger. “Excuse me, sir, do you have the time?” “8:25!” The jogger said thanks and left.
The man could see other joggers on the path who were heading in his direction and he assumed that it was only a matter of time before another jogger interrupted his rest. So, to avoid being disturbed, he put an enormous sign in his car window which read, “I do not know the time!” Once again he laid down hoping this time to finally get some rest. But just as he was falling asleep there was another knock on the car window. “Sir, sir, I know the time, it’s 8:45!”
Arguably one of the most trying commandments in the Torah for many of us in the western world is the directive to “Keep a Sabbath!” We find an equally challenging invitation on the lips of the teacher to his disciples in the Holy Scripture: “Come away with me to a quiet place, by yourself and rest awhile.”
In the words above, the invitation to rest awakens in some people a deep human need, and longing. But this offer stimulates an equally profound fear of and resistance to the loss of income and the means by which to sustain life for the fast-food worker who makes burgers that are delivered to doorsteps, the janitor who cleans the grocery store, or the warehouse worker pulling packages for a mail order. While for some of us, being busy has become a way to avoid connecting with people or dealing with issues. For many of those described above and others, business is a way of life and the only way to survive.
As Americans we want to believe that the word ‘work’ is a legally registered trademark used to describe our nation. From the ‘enslaved’ people who were forcibly brought to the New World against their will on large boats to entertain and work hard for their masters; to the athlete, business woman, entrepreneur, entertainer or elected official, who works hard in order to purchase a large boat. Americans, for the most part, are known as highly competitive, motivated and hardworking people.
We are a nation of workers. We find our self-worth in work. We take pride in what we have done, or paid others to do for us. Work focuses our energy and creativity on something that we place value on and regard to be useful. And work feels good. Whether we are doing something that we love, that makes us a lot of money, or provides for the needs of others, work can give us a sense of accomplishment and purpose and keep us busy.
If there is one thing we Americans are very good at, it is keeping busy. Researchers, however, show that people in the USA are not getting enough sleep. Therefore, they struggle through the days under the burden of sleep deficit because of a desperate need for rest. We live lives devoid of sleep, often afraid to take time away from work to rest. Even when we are on so called vacations, many remain consumed and preoccupied by the work we left undone at home.
But now, in light of a pandemic virus called COVID-19, we have governments all around the world demanding that we “shelter in place” and stay away from people; in essence, stop working. Thousands of businesses have been closed and millions of jobs lost; some never to return again.
In this rare moment in history, we are temporarily restrained from being busy at the work we are good at, that defines who we are, and provides for life’s basic needs. It is frustrating and maddening.
While we have some control over the outcome and spread of this virus by practicing social distancing, wearing protective gear, abiding by the “safer at home’ mandates and observing good hygiene, for some, especially those who have been ill or have family or friends who have died, it can feel as if no amount of work or decreased activity will change the after-effect.
The current crisis has disrupted the normal day-to-day practices of almost every individual around the world. COVID-19 (aka coronavirus) has thrust all of us into a mandatory “restful permanency.” We are all receiving an “overdose” of restful time at home.
But like the cross-country driver in the opening story, this mandate to rest, for many even when deemed absolutely necessary for health and safety, is challenging and seems difficult to achieve. Financial distress or the loss of a job, income and any means to sustain life weighs heavily on the hearts and minds of millions today. Worry and anxiety about the present and future constantly knocks on windows of our life while fear and depression and attempts to kick the doors in.
I am thinking here of my sisters and brothers who desperately need to work, but by no means of their own have been forced not to work.
Is this time really a Sabbath?
And what about all the medical professionals, grocery workers and delivery drivers who are expected or required to work extra? Is this a Sabbath for them? I am not sure.
About a week ago the L.A. Times online edition ran an article about the people in Cambodia being in a bad way because the clothing stores here have cancelled orders. Some huge percentage of Cambodia’s economy comes from selling clothing to America. Maybe the pandemic is showing us just how closely we are all related to each other. What happens to one affect so many. What happens to one country can affect the world.
We can only conduct so much spring cleaning. So, my question is, what kind of rest are we really being called to during this pandemic?
Could it be a rest from our failure to “love one another?” A rest from our divisive nature on the bases of race, privilege, status, sexual orientation, or gender? Are we being called to rest from a need to “democratize much of this world, at any costs?” Or maybe the calling is to rest and get reacquainted with self?
The intended benefit of the stay-at-home rules is to keep us from getting infected and from infecting others.
The unintended benefit is that we now have the time to take care of the things that we’ve always meant to do but could never find the time. Contact friends and family we haven’t seen or talked to for years. Help our elderly neighbor or people who have been devastated by their losses or overcome with fear about the future.
When this virus finally goes away and we get back to whatever “normal” is, will we choose to return to the hectic, crazy, maddening, polarizing and frustrating ways of life we used to have prior to everything being closed down, OR can we take what we have learned from this enforced pause and re-evaluate our lives and implement changes that allow us to be at peace with ourselves and those around us and others in the world?
With all due respect to the pain and suffering of many thousands, all those who have died as a result of the coronavirus, the millions who are currently laid off, and unemployed, the question I am struggling with, and that haunts and keep me up at night is, Can anything positive come out of this COVID-19 crisis?
Maybe instead of fighting this enforced isolation and the limits it places on our freedom, we need to look at this current situation as an opportunity for R&R: rest and redirection.
We can use this time to recover and reevaluate the choices we made in the past or those that were forced on us. We can redirect our energy to the “someday” list of things we always meant to do and the people we always meant to call, take out, or be with but never made the time for.
As we find each day transformed by this pandemic, maybe we can accept the invitation of my friend Cathy to take this pause in all of our habits and routines, and find in this an opportunity to appropriately reflect on, offer help to and even pray for something and someone other than self.
(Editor’s note: Pastor Kenneth L. Davis, M.Div. was a pastor at the Palisades Lutheran Church. He is currently at the Bethel Encino Church, assisting them until a new pastor can be called. While continuing with his acting career, he also is a Sunday Supply Pastor for congregations whose pastors are on vacation or sabbatical. He has developed a website: www.woundedhealerministry.com and is on Instagram: 2BUISIT.)